North Cowichan staff objects to all-out scrapping of OCP

Staff in the Municipality of North Cowichan are against the municipality completely scrapping its Official Community Plan

Staff in the Municipality of North Cowichan are against the municipality completely scrapping its Official Community Plan and developing a new one, as some have suggested.

Instead, staff are recommending that a strategic review and update of the current OCP, which has been in place since 2011, be conducted instead.

After a considerable debate, council decided at its meeting on Dec. 7 that the issue will go before the municipality’s committee of the whole for further discussion before any decisions on the process are made.

The OCP is intended to be the municipality’s main policy document that guides how and where the community will grow and evolve in a sustainable manner over time.

The OCP has been under the spotlight in recent months after a number of development applications generated significant controversy and debate among council and the community.

They include the rezoning applications for Donnay Drive and Berkey’s Corner that involved issues around the appropriateness of certain types and densities of developments in some areas, and the preservation of rural character and agricultural lands in the community.

Scott Mack, North Cowichan’s director of development services, said in a report that it appears the challenges derive from a “lack of clarity and common understanding” as to how North Cowichan achieves the OCP’s goals and objectives.

“There is a great deal of uncertainty, and in some cases disagreement, between council, staff, residents and the development community as to how and why certain aspects of the OCP are, or are not, applied,” he said.

But Mack said staff don’t believe this disagreement is a result of any fundamental or significant flaws with the key principles or objectives of the OCP itself.

He said staff believe it is the volume of policies and, in many cases, the ambiguity as to how best to interpret those policies that is often leading to the confusion and frustration that has been seen with many of the recent applications.

Mack said a strategic review and update process would include amendments to address potential revisions to the OCP’s Urban Containment Boundaries, as well as various policies that have proven to be confusing, problematic or unnecessary.

He said if council wants a completely new OCP developed, the costs would likely be much more than the $25,000 tentatively earmarked in the 2017 budget for a review of the plan.

“In addition, staff don’t believe that development of an entirely new OCP can be completed within the current term of this council, which now has approximately 23 months remaining,” Mack said.

“Staff believe it would take approximately three years to develop a new OCP.”

Coun. Tom Walker said he was not in favour of bringing the issue to a committee of the whole meeting. “I’m against council walking out of here with no decisions made other than to set up another meeting on this issue,” he said.

“That’s wrong. We’ve been at this since May. We were elected to do something and we have a staff report here now.”

Coun. Al Siebring said he supports some adjustments to the OCP because there is some language in the document that needs to be addressed.

“But I’m worried this process could get away from us and monopolize much of the rest of the time of this [council’s] term,” he said.

“We do have other things for this council to do.”